Thursday, August 02, 2012

Le Grand Tour: Paris Day 7

Saturday was our last day in Paris...the days had gone by too quickly! I had wanted to explore Canal St. Martin and Parc des Buttes Chaumont, but our apartment greeter said that most shops probably would be closed for the Fete Nationale, or Bastille Day as we call it. She mentioned a celebration at Versailles, so we decided to go to the palace, especially since our Paris Museum Pass covered admission.

First we walked to the weekend food market on Avenue St. Ouen in search of picnic fixings. We picked up a baguette and fruit tart at the patisserie near the apartment, where I spotted several pooches. I was not sure if the market would be open for the holiday, but we saw a few people with baskets, so we followed them. After a few blocks, we found the produce vendors and other food shops, hooray! We picked up French plums, saucisson sec, pate, and carrot salad. Dan was admiring the rotisserie meats at the boucherie... the butcher did not speak English, so a kind customer translated for us, saying it was what we eat at Thanksgiving...a roast turkey leg! We decided to get the turkey for dinner, since we had not made reservations anywhere, didn't know when we would return from Versailles, and which restaurants would be open. Plus we had to pack.

Laden with picnic supplies, we took the Metro to Invalides and got RER tickets for Versailles. (Our Navigo Decouverte passes only covered the Metro and RER within Paris.) Note: The machine doesn't sell round-trip tickets to Versailles, just buy two sets. Or buy the return ticket upon arrival in Versailles, to avoid the extremely long lines later in the day. We learned this the hard way.

After a short RER journey, we arrived in Versailles and it began to rain. We walked toward the palace, where the number of people and tour buses was overwhelming. I couldn't even count them all. I was feeling discouraged and unhappy, but I remembered reading about free entrance to the grounds at the Queen's Gate. So we walked along along the road and eventually found it. It was much more pleasant away from the crowds...we saw people riding bikes, jogging, and strolling along the path...and we saw sheep!

French sheep
French sheep

The grounds of Versailles are enormous. The rain stopped, and I was feeling much more encouraged. Eventually we found the Grand Canal and sat down for a picnic.

Picnic at the Grand Canal
Picnic time

Many people were wearing white for the holiday. We enjoyed our picnic, then walked toward the Grand Trianon. We toured the rooms on one side and then explored the gardens. We saw a few fountains, but shortly after a man began turning off all the fountains! Later Dan asked someone at the Grand Trianon about it, and she said the fountains are rarely turned on and it was the first time she had seen them flowing. Dan thought it might have been for the holiday.

Grand Trianon
Grand Trianon

Carol at Grand Trianon
Carol at Grand Trianon

Fountain in Grand Trianon gardens
Fountain behind Grand Trianon

After touring the rest of the Grand Trianon, we walked toward the Petit Trianon, passing the French Pavilion and a pretty green tiled structure that I liked. There were people walking around, but it was nothing like the crowds at the main entrance of the palace, thankfully.

Green tiles
Pretty green tiles

We peeked into the Queen's Theatre (gorgeous! crouch down to see the gilded ceiling) and walked around the Belvedere, where I sat down for a rest on a pretty green bench. And Dan found the grotto.

I liked this green bench
I like this bench

Dan found the grotto
Dan outside the grotto

Then we continued on to the Queen's Hamlet, which was quaint and lovely. Especially if you were Marie Antoinette and didn't do any of the actual labor!

The Queen's hamlet
Queen's hamlet

Mill
Mill

Of course we had to check out the royal animals. The highlight for me were the vertical ducks, which I had never seen before in real life, just drawings in storybooks. I am now obsessed and want a vertical duck. They look so funny when they walk around.

Dan and a burro
Dan and a French burro

Baa baa black sheep
Baa baa black sheep

The Royal sheep
Royal sheep

A French duck
A vertical duck

After watching the animals for awhile, we headed back toward the Petit Trianon, stopping at the Temple of Love.

Temple of Love
Temple of Love

Cupid
Cupid

After we toured the Petit Trianon, it started pouring rain. I was feeling worried because the walk back to the train station was very far. I saw a tram stopped outside, and we got in line to take it back to the Chateau. Lucky we did, because after we got on, the rain came down even stronger, and I heard thunder. And it turned out to be the last tram of the day.

Rainy Versailles
Rainy Chateau

Since the tram stopped at the Chateau, we decided to tour the royal apartments before closing. In the first few rooms the crowds were manageable, but then there were huge tour groups and we could barely move. I can't imagine what it was like earlier in the day.

Upstairs
Royal Chapel

The Venus salon
Venus Salon

Hall of mirrors
Dan in the Hall of Mirrors

Hall of mirrors
Hall of Mirrors

I am so glad we toured the palaces of Trianon and Marie Antoinette's estate first, as I found that area of Versailles to be much more pleasant. We saw some of the gardens of the main palace on our tram ride, but there were many more beyond that. Versailles is huge!

The rain had stopped, and we walked back to the train station, then waited in extremely long lines for the ticket machines (see note above). Eventually, we made it back to Paris. On the way back to the apartment, I picked up a pain au chocolat for the next day, and one last chocolate eclair. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the apartment on our last evening, and then it was time to pack.

I wanted to see the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, so we walked up near Sacre Coeur to find a spot. This turned out to be a very bad idea, but Dan was a good sport about it. The crowds increased as it got darker, and the Eiffel Tower sparkled at 10 o'clock. The fireworks were scheduled for 10:30, but did not begin until 11 o'clock. By this time I was restless and squished. And the lights of the Eiffel Tower were TURNED OFF during the fireworks! I don't understand why. I thought the whole point of setting off fireworks near the Eiffel Tower was to see fireworks and the Eiffel Tower. I was very disappointed. We watched for a few minutes, and then decided to head back to the apartment. The fireworks continued for quite a long time. If I am ever in Paris again on the 14 of July, I want to stay near the Champ de Mars, or have a view of the Eiffel Tower from my window.

Early the next morning I ate my last pain au chocolat, and we checked out, took the RER to Charles de Gaulle, and traveled for over 20 hours to get home to San Francisco. I missed Paris as soon as we left, and I hope we will return soon. On my list for next time: Berthillon ice cream on Ile St. Louis, ride Velib bikes, eat buckwheat galettes and drink French cider, Canal St. Martin and Parc des Buttes Chaumont, go inside the Louvre, and so much more...Paris, je t'aime!